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Thomasine “Gnostics” and Others

In this thread of posts I have been reproducing my comments on Gnosticism from the 2nd edition of my anthology, After the New Testament, to be released in the fall. In addition to the Sethians and the Valentinians, scholars talk about the school of Thomas and about yet other Gnostic groups that are not easy to identify with any of the other three or to group together in any meaningful way. Gnosticism was a messy group of religions! Here is what I say in the Introductions to the Thomasines and the Other Gnostic groups in the book. ***************************************************************** Thomasines A number of books from the early Christian tradition are connected with a figure known as Didymus Judas Thomas. The word “Didymus” means “twin” in Greek; so too the name “Thomas” means “twin” in Aramaic. And so this person is Judas, or Jude, the twin. But the twin of whom? In our earliest surviving Gospel, Jesus himself is said to have a brother who is named Jude (for example, Mark 6). And in later traditions, especially [...]

The Valentinian Gnostics

In my previous post I reproduced my Introduction to the Sethian Gnostics from the new edition of my reader in early Christianity, After The New Testament, 2nd edition. One other highly important group of Christian Gnostics are known as the Valentinians. Here is what I say about them in the book *************************************************** Valentinians Unlike the Sethian Gnostics, the Valentinians were named after an actual person, Valentinus, the founder and original leader of the group. We know about the Valentinians from the writings of proto-orthodox heresiologists beginning with Irenaeus and by some of the writings discovered among the Nag Hammadi Library that almost certainly derive from Valentinian authors, including one book that may actually have been written by Valentinus himself (The Gospel of Truth). Valentinus was born around 100 CE and was raised in Alexandria Egypt. He allegedly was a student of the Christian teacher Theudas, who was in turn a disciple of the apostle Paul. Valentinus moved to Rome in the late 130s and there became an influential speaker and teacher. According to some of [...]

The Sethian Gnostics

In my previous post I reproduced the new discussion of Gnosticism in my soon to be published After the New Testament, 2nd edition (due to be out in the fall). In this post and the two to follow I will reproduce my new discussions of the various “types” of Gnostic texts that I include in the anthology. Many scholars would consider this first type the most important historically: it is a group of texts produced by and for Gnostics known by scholars as the “Sethians.” Here is what I say about them in the book. *************************************************************** Sethian Gnostics The group of Gnostics that scholars have labeled the “Sethians” are known from the writings of proto-orthodox heresiologists beginning with Irenaeus (around 180 CE) and from some of the significant writings of the Nag Hammadi library. They were a thriving sect already by the middle of the second century.   FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, THERE IS STILL HOPE!!! Members of [...]

New Discussion of Gnosticism

On to a different topic for a bit. I am now in the process or reading the copy-edited version of the new edition of my anthology of ancient Christian texts, After the New Testament. In early posts, back in January, I talked about what would be in this anthology and how it would differ from the first edition, which I published fifteen years ago. In addition to adding some sections (full new rubrics, for example, on Women in the Early Church and on the History of Biblical Interpretation), I altered a few things – especially my entire section dealing with Christian Gnosticism. In my first edition I simply had one undifferentiated mass of texts that I called Gnostic. This is completely unsatisfying, confusing, simplistic, and, well, just wrong. This time I’ve tried to mend the errors of my ways. Based on my reading of more recent work in the field, I’ve rewritten the general introduction to Gnosticism in the text, and divided the primary text readings into four categories, each involving different “kinds” of Gnosticism: [...]

The Next Step: Redaction Criticism

In this breezy overview of New Testament scholarship that I’ve been giving, from roughly the 18th century till today (!) I have talked about textual criticism (establishing what the authors of the New Testament originally wrote based on the surviving manuscripts), source criticism (determining what the written sources of the New Testament were – especially the Gospels, and most especially the Synoptic Gospels), Life of Jesus research (up to Albert Schweitzer’s day), and finally form criticism (the interest in establishing the formal characteristics of the oral traditions of Jesus in circulation before the Gospels were written down). In some respects, form criticism put the final nail in the coffin of historical Jesus research, a coffin fashioned by Wrede and Schweitzer. If the stories about Jesus, even in our earliest Gospels, are not accounts of what happened but narratives that were formulated by communities of Christians after his death (as the form critics assumed), well, there’s not much source material left if we want to reconstruct the life of Jesus. And so a lot of scholars [...]

More on Jesus’ Wife!

So here’s a topic I haven’t addressed for nearly a year and a half!  The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.  New developments happened about six weeks ago.   I meant to post on them, other things got in the way, I put it off, so now I’m way behind the times.  But in case you haven’t kept up with the story from other venues, I thought I should say something about it.   It’s all extremely interesting. I won’t review everything I’ve said about the fragment already, but will give just a three-sentence summation of where the discussion stood last time I talked about it on the blog.   In 2012 Karen King, a superb scholar of early Christianity at the Harvard Divinity School (and a colleague and friend), announced that she had been given by an anonymous collector the little fragment scrap of a Gospel written in Coptic.  It was smaller than a credit card and contained eight partial lines of text that cited some words of Jesus, including a reference to “my wife.”  Prof. King planned to [...]

2017-12-14T23:16:21-05:00May 24th, 2014|Christian Apocrypha, Public Forum|

Form Critics and Oral Tradition

Once it came to be realized that Mark’s Gospel – the earliest of our surviving accounts of Jesus – was driven not purely by historical interests in order to record biographical information with historical accuracy, but was (like the other Gospels) written in order to convey theological ideas in literary guise, the movement to use Mark to write a “Life of Jesus” more or less collapsed on itself, for a time and among most New Testament scholars. What arose from the ashes of this “Quest of the Historical Jesus” could not have been foreseen by its devotees – as often happens in times of disciplinary progress and change. The big breakthrough came with the work of Karl Ludwig Schmidt (whose most important book was never translated into English, to my knowledge). Schmidt realized that the theologically loaded parts of Mark’s Gospel were not found in the core stories found throughout its account, but in the “framework” for these stories, that is, in the narrative transitions that the author himself provided for moving from one story [...]

More Background on Oral Traditions

Up until the 1920s, critical scholars who were deep into questions of New Testament studies had focused a lot of their attention (not all of it, obviously) on questions of textual criticism (how do we know what the “original” text was?) and source criticism (what are the written sources lying behind the New Testament – especially the Gospels?). The former was a matter of concern largely because it was thought that the words of Scripture were inspired by God – so it was important to know what those words were! The latter was a matter of concern in no small measure because of the intriguing questions themselves (was Mark the first Gospel? Did Matthew and Luke copy it? Did Q exist? and so on) but even more because of the significance of their answers for understanding the historical Jesus. If we want to get back to Jesus, and the later Gospels represent alterations of the traditions about him by later authors, then surely the best procedure is to determine our *earliest* sources. And if Mark [...]

Background to the Interest in Oral Traditions

Just to give a bit of background to the work I’ve just started doing on the question of the oral traditions about Jesus in the years before the Gospels were written, some initial points: 1) I am not, decidedly NOT, the first scholar to think this might be of some interest! On the contrary, it has long been intriguing to scholars, and there are a number of important books that have appeared in recent years, for example, James Dunn, The Oral Gospel Tradition (just last year!) and, even better known, Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (a fat and very important book.) I would make two points about these (and other similar) books: they are not written for general audiences but for scholars, and I fundamentally disagree with lots of their views and claims! My approach will be very different, as, no doubt, will be my conclusions and arguments. 2) I am just at the beginning stages of my work. My plan is to read as extensively as I can over the next three months [...]

My Other Next Book

In my previous post I indicated that I am debating over my next trade book (for general audiences. The one I described there has to do with how Christians appropriated the Jewish Scriptures for themselves, leading to (and being implicated in) the rise of Christian anti-Judaism. It’s a fascinating topic, and I’m definitely planning on writing the book. But something else has come up that is driving my research right now instead, and I suspect this will be the next book. But I’m happy to hear your opinions about the value of doing one or the other first. First I need to provide a bit of background. As I have mentioned a number of times on the blog, I am trying to alternate the kinds of books I write – hard-hitting scholarly work, textbooks for university students, and trade books for normal human beings. My next scholarly book was supposed to be a commentary on the early Greek Gospel fragments of the second century (the Gospel of Peter; Papyrus Egerton 2; and a bunch of [...]

2020-04-03T16:57:41-04:00May 20th, 2014|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Memory Studies|

My Next Books

QUESTION: I now have a half dozen questions, but I won’t ask them at this time because I have a better idea for your time: a book on Paul. I would Love that. If that is not your plan, would you give us a hint about what your next book will be about?   RESPONSE: I have had a number of people ask if I was planning on, or willing to, write a book on Paul. The answers are no, and probably no. There are already lots of good books out there on Paul for both scholars (my favorite classic is by my former colleague from Duke, E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism) and lay folk (for example, the most recent book by my friend Albert Harrill, Paul the Apostle). Moreover, Pauline studies is not one of my areas of specialization, even though in graduate school I studied with two of the great Pauline scholars of the day (J. Christiaan Beker and Paul Meyer), and I still have both colleagues (Richard Hayes, Douglas Campbell) [...]

2020-04-03T16:57:52-04:00May 19th, 2014|Book Discussions, Reader’s Questions|

Interview for The Skeptic Fence Show

On April 20th, 2014, I did a Skype interview for The Skeptic Fence Show, in which we discuss my personal background in the faith, talk about some of my debates, and, especially, deal with questions related to my book, "How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee." The interviewers were  Joe, TJ, Paul and Drew. The main website for the show can be found at + + + + + + + + + + + + + Please adjust gear icon for 720p High-Definition:

2017-12-14T23:18:25-05:00May 17th, 2014|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Video Media|

Other Options for Paul and Jesus

In my last post I started giving the principal options, as I see them, for why Paul did not mention more about the historical Jesus. Below are two other leading options. As I’ve indicated, there are probably others, and if some occur to you, feel free to comment! ************************************************* Option Two: Paul knew more of the traditions of Jesus, but considered them irrelevant to his mission. This option relates closely to the one preceding, with a major difference. In this case, Paul did not himself teach his congregations many of the traditions about Jesus that he knew, nor did he refer to them extensively either in person or in writing -- not because he had no occasion to (since he clearly did) but because he chose not to. Why would he choose not to? Perhaps because he considered the traditions about Jesus' words and deeds to be irrelevant to his message of Jesus' death and resurrection. Support for this view can come from a passage like 1 Cor 2:2, where Paul insists that the only [...]

Why Doesn’t Paul Say More About Jesus?

To this point I have enumerated everything that Paul explicitly says about what Jesus said, did, and experienced during his earthly life. The driving question is the one that I turn to now and in the next post. Why didn’t Paul tell us *more*? I’ve long been fascinated by this question, and even though I’ve thought about it for well over thirty years, I’ve never decided on what I really think. There are just too many counter-arguments for every perspective that I’ve heard or thought of! In these two posts I want to lay out three of the main options. If you think of others that need to be aired, feel free to make a comment. I have taken the following from my textbook The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. *********************************************************** Paul of course has a lot to say about the importance of Jesus, especially the importance of his death and resurrection and his imminent return from heaven. But in terms of historical information, what I've listed above [i.e., in [...]

2020-04-03T16:59:02-04:00May 14th, 2014|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters|

More on Jesus’ Teachings in Paul

I have been talking about Paul’s knowledge of the historical Jesus, and yesterday began a discussion of what Paul clearly knew about Jesus’ teachings.   That’s where I will pick up here.   Again, I have taken the discussion from my book Did Jesus Exist?, so the orientation of what I have to say is toward showing that Paul provides solid (and for my mind, virtually incontrovertible) evidence that Jesus was not simply “made up” but was an actual historical figure – an issue that, for most people in the universe of intelligent humans, is not much of an issue, but which is disputed by that tiny but oh-so-vocal group of “mythicists” about which I have said some things before.   In any event, there are a few more interesting aspects of the question of Paul’s use of Jesus’ teachings, as follows: ********************************************************* There are no other obvious places where Paul quotes Jesus, although scholars have often found traces of Jesus’ teachings in Paul.  The big question is why Paul does not quote Jesus more often.  That [...]

Paul’s References to Jesus’ Teachings

So far I have been discussing what Paul says about the historical Jesus in his surviving seven letters. For the next couple of posts I’ll indicate what he says about the teaching of Jesus. Once again there are two observations to make. The first is that he obviously knew that Jesus taught some things. The other is that it is a bit surprising that he doesn’t tell us more. I will be dealing with that second issue soon, when I discuss why Paul doesn’t give us more information about the historical Jesus (there are several options). The following discussion is taken from my book Did Jesus Exist, which was meant to deal more with the first issue: the fact that Paul quotes Jesus on occasion shows at the least that Paul knew Jesus existed (as do the other data that he mentions about Jesus’ life). ***********************************************************8 The Teachings of Jesus in Paul In addition to these data about Jesus’ life and death, Paul mentions on several occasions the teachings he delivered. We have seen two [...]

2020-04-03T16:59:18-04:00May 12th, 2014|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters|

An Interview about My Agnosticism

Last weekend I gave a talk at the Freedom from Religion Foundation convention in Raleigh.  This is a group of agnostics, atheists, and skeptics who are intent on preserving intact the complete separation of church and state.   At the convention I was given "The Emperor Has No Clothes Award" -- including an amusing statue of the emperor who in fact has no clothes -- for my writings on the NT and early Christianity.   My lecture was called "Writing about Religion: Some Agnostic Reflections," in which I dealt with what it's like to devote one's professional life to early Chritianity when one is not personally a Christian. In a few weeks I will try to post that entire lecture.  What I give here is a very short (7 minute) interview that I did in conjunction with the lecture.  But it is unlike other videos I have posted because in it I talk openly about my personal beliefs/agnosticism;  there is a brief clip from my lecture embedded in the interview. The interview was recorded at the FFRF (Freedom [...]

2017-12-14T23:19:36-05:00May 10th, 2014|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum, Video Media|

More on Paul’s Knowledge of Jesus’ Life

In my last post I began to enumerate the things that Paul said about Jesus. *Most* of what he says about Jesus has to do with the significance of his death and resurrection. But what if we wanted to know about the *life* of Jesus – the things that Jesus said, did, and experienced between his birth and his death? Paul doesn’t tell us a ton, as has frequently been noted. But he does tell us some. In addition to what I laid out in the previous post, there are the following bits of information, again taken from my fuller analysis in Did Jesus Exist?   FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, ARE YOU WAITING FOR CHRISTMAS???? ********************************************************* Paul knows that Jesus was a teacher, because he quotes several of his sayings.  I will deal with these later [in my next post].  For now it is worth noting that two of the sayings of Jesus that Paul quotes were [...]

2020-04-03T16:59:29-04:00May 9th, 2014|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters|

What Did Paul Know About the Historical Jesus?

I have been approaching the relationship of Jesus and Paul from only one angle, to this point – viz., did they represent fundamentally the same religion or not? But there is a second, equally interesting question. How much did Paul actually know about the historical Jesus? In an earlier iteration of my Introduction to the NT class, this was what I had my students debate. I never could figure out a good way to word the resolution, but most of the time I gave it as this: “Resolved: Paul Knew Next To Nothing About the Historical Jesus.” The problem with that resolution is that it asserts a negative, so that the affirmative team is arguing for a negative resolution. Not good. But I couldn’t come up with anything I liked better, and so went with it. Most students are surprised to find that if they simply make a list of what Paul says about Jesus between the time of his birth and the time of his death, they don’t need much more than a 3x5 [...]

2020-04-03T16:59:37-04:00May 8th, 2014|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters|

Jesus and Paul Compared and Contrasted

I have been talking about the relationship of Jesus’ proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God to Paul’s preaching about the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the previous post I argued that the fundamental concerns, interests, perspectives, and theologies of these two were different. In this post I’d like to give, in summary fashion, what strikes me as very similar and very different about their two messages. Again, in my view it is way too much to say that Paul is the “Founder of Christianity”: that assumes that he is the one who personally came up with the idea of the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus for salvation, whereas almost certainly this view had been around for a couple of years before he came onto the scene. And it is probably too much even to say that he was the “Co-founder of Christianity,” for much the same reason. But it is safe to say that of all the early Christian thinkers and missionaries, Paul is the one we [...]

2020-04-03T16:59:45-04:00May 7th, 2014|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters|
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